Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Lungeing Quandry

Do you work your horse on a lunge line? Despite having been involved with horses for decades I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to lungeing. In fact, I don’t think I ever lunged my first two horses, Kali and Amanda, which seems strange to me now, particularly as far as Amanda was concerned. That highly strung mare would definitely have benefitted from being worked on the lunge, but seeing as nobody ever worked their horses on the lunge at that particular yard, the concept never even entered my head. I didn’t lunge my third horse, Monty, much either. Truth be told, I didn’t have the opportunity to do very much of anything with him, as I only had him for two years, the majority of which were spent recovering from broken limbs (I broke my leg sledding soon after getting him and was out of action for nine months, and, soon after I recovered, Monty threw me off, shattered my shoulder and nearly fell on top of me, whereupon I gave him to a good home and quit riding for seven years).

Kwintus, who has now been retired for close to a year, was clearly accustomed to lunge work (we bought him as a fifteen-year old schoolmaster), but due to his stumbling problems we soon decided it was best avoided. But when seven-year old Qrac came into my life earlier this year, I immediately knew I’d have to learn how to lunge him. The person who took care of Qrac while he was being sold always lunged him for ten minutes or so before riding him, so I initially felt I should do the same. It was reassuring to allow my horse to get rid of any excess energy before I climbed on, not that he ever did. Qrac has always been very well behaved on the lunge and impressed me from day one with his response to verbal cues. I suppose most horses do the same, but with my lack of experience, the fact that he springs into trot whenever I say “Qraaaaaac; au trot” (I tend to speak French to him when I lunge him) still astounds me. I think he’s such a clever boy!

What I’m still uncertain about is whether I should lunge him in draw reins, or side reins, or something. My trainer, Marie-Valentine, always lunges horses in draw reins. She says they don’t work properly through their backs if they’re not coaxed into a long and low frame. So when I bought Qrac I set out to buy a lunge, a surcingle and draw reins so that Marie-Valentine could give me some lunging lessons. But who would have thought that finding a surcingle to fit a Lusitano would have been so complicated! Regular horse-sized ones were way too big for him, and none of the shops around here carried anything in between “pony” and “horse”, so for the first few weeks I simply lunged him “au naturel”. I eventually found him a cob-sized one that fit fine, but by that time Marie-Valentine was busy travelling around Europe, going to shows with some of more advanced students, so I only managed to have one lesson on lunging Qrac with draw reins. And being a world class worrier, when it came to having to do it alone I got all freaked out about adjusting the damn things. Were they too slack? Too tight? Was he holding himself right? Was he too tense through his back? Was I doing it right? So worried was I about doing it wrong that I soon took everything off and went back to lungeing him “au naturel” again, which, from what I sensed, was what he was used to anyway.

In fact, from what I’ve seen on the Internet, it seems to me that most Iberian horses are lunged without draw reins or side reins or any other equipment to keep them in a frame. My other trainer, Greg, prefers to lunge horses without restraints; he says that what good lungeing really comes down to is observation.

I’ve lunged Qrac about twice a week for the past few months and he seems to be doing fine without draw reins. I watch carefully, talk to him a lot, play with my fingers, adapt my body language, coaxing him to reach down and stretch, but, of course, this isn’t as efficient as physically closing him. Another drawback (is it a drawback?) is that, without draw reins or side reins, I can’t “force” Qrac to stay flexed to the inside, and he does tend to bend to the outside on the right lead canter, at least for the first few minutes. However, now that he’s become stronger, after a few rounds I coax him into a smaller circle, whereupon he needs to stay in the correct flexion in order to remain balanced. He seems quite comfortable performing a couple of rounds of slow canter around me, really coming under with the hind leg, so I guess I must be doing something right.

Nevertheless, that little niggly voice inside my head still constantly harangues me, going on about that virtually unused cob-sized surcingle hanging on my peg. Would Qrac be better off being lunged in a more contained frame? Would it be more efficient? Or does lungeing with draw reins/side-reins/etc just make them work harder? I don’t think I’m wasting my time lunging him “au naturel”, but then again, maybe I am. Maybe I’m just “moving” him, as opposed to working him. What do you think? How do you lunge your horse?


Alison said...

Francesca, your dilemmas are beyond me. I use lunging once or twice at the beginning of the riding season to make sure I'm not mounting a bucking bronco. Other than that, it's useless for my level of training called "trail riding." (not even advanced trail riding.) I hope you solve your conundrum!

Anonymous said...

I have lots of opinions on this subject, but that's all they are, my opinions.

Lungeing is traditional for many trainers and riders but I almost never lunge, even before I do arena work - in fact I almost never do groundwork. I do groundwork and lunge work, and ground driving, as a stage in the horse's training and pretty much drop them after that. I will on occasion put a horse on the lunge briefly, if we haven't worked in a long time, just to check to see where they are mentally. If my horse is too fresh to ride, the horse isn't getting enough turnout - turnout is the place to work off freshness.

If I do work on the lines (two lines), I ground drive as it allows straight lines and frequent changes of direction - I think lungeing in circles, particularly small circles, can be very hard on the horse.

And I never use side reins, draw reins or a bitting rig - I think simply forcing a horse into a frame is almost useless as a training method and isn't fair to the horse - I want my horses to be able to choose where to put their head as it tells me a lot about how they're feeling and using their bodies - it's up to me to help them develop the hindquarters and their core strength so they can carry themselves properly - only then will they be in a position to carry their heads correctly. In fact I even once did a whole post on why I don't use gadgets such as side reins or draw reins - it's on my sidebar.

I also don't think that a lot of work on the lunge and/or groundwork really translates all that well to under saddle work, frankly.

End of rant. But then, these are only my opinions and they are at odds with what a lot of trainers and riders choose to do, for what they probably consider good reasons.

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I agree with Kate. (Look Kate, here is one place we absolutely are in agreement.). I only lunge for very specific reasons in very specific places in training. I want my broke horses to be broke to climb on--period. I have no intention of training them to expect this sort of dinking around first or else they feel free to misbehave (which is what lunging before each ride will do for you). I warm them up slowly, lots of walking first, but always on their backs. Again, I agree with Kate--a horse that is too fresh to ride needs turnout. I HAVE used various forms of bitting up--which is what draw reins..etc amount to, but again only very briefly and for very specific reasons during the training process. Once a horse has learned how to give his head to such pressure, I don't do it again. I also agree that lunging (or lots of small circles of any sort, frankly) is very hard on a horse's legs. And I also agree that most "groundwork" doesn't translate well to under saddle work.

All that said, I come from a very different background to dressage, and many, many people think lunging/groundwork is key. So I'm guessing that most won't agree with me and that's fine. You should probably go with your gut, seeing as your two trainers have different opinions.

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison, I don't lunge Qrac anymore before I ride him! I'm not really worried about lungeing, I was just curious as to what other people did, because I'm in a very small yard and have no access to multiple opinions...which is probably a good thing as even in a small yard there can be more than enough drama!

Kate: what exactly do you mean by groundwork? Is this working your horse on foot with the bridle on? I'm intrigued by line work (two lines) but have never had the opportunity to learn how to do it.

I tend to be with you as far as draw reins are concerned, especially when riding. I've seen too many horses abused by heavy-handed riders using draw reins to lock them in, usually very much behind the vertical. Hollow backs, cement mouths and lots of rearing ensues. I'll go take a look at the blog on draw reins you mentioned. Thanks for your input.

Laura: as I said to Alison, I never lunge Qrac anymore before riding him. Some people say it relaxes horses and warms up their backs and muscles, preparing them for a riding session. I just walk on a long rein for about fifteen minutes. But I do think lungeing once or twice a week for a short period of time has benefits. And yes, I think I'm going to stay with my gut feeling, which is "au naturel". Thanks so much for commenting :)

Shanster said...

I'll chime in.... I ride Dressage and take lessons at a Dressage barn.

I don't lunge my horses in anything other than au-natural...halter and naked or bridle and saddle. My trainer doesn't either...

I focus on making sure the horse is in my "hand" and when they come up or against the hand, gently flex them to the inside and ask them to come down... yes, probably takes longer but they figure it out and want to stretch long and low -- I would imagine it feels pretty good to stretch over the topline.

I also think draw reins create an artificial frame ... just my opinion and what I've practiced/been taught. Always been told to do things naturally without the equipment when possible... obviously, I use a saddle and bridle for riding!

I don't lunge Sera anymore cuz she has proven to be a very solid citizen - she just doesn't need it. I haven't lunged her for years.

I did lunge Rosso before riding him to make sure he was obedient minded before climbing aboard... responding to voice commands willingly - he was always fully tacked up and not allowed to fruit around - tack ='d work. If he wanted to fruit around, it meant a hellova lot more work. Tho' he was/is difficult. shrug.

Heather said...

Wow. Lots of opinions.

I'm the owner of an andalusian (the other iberian bred). He's a beautifully trained schoolmaster who learned to lunge many years ago. We use lunging as a means of supplementing the time spent riding -- to help maintain his conditioning and fitness.

My trainer, who works with many andalusians, has commented that these breeds often aren't worked properly because their natural "collection" can "fool" the observer into thinking they are working across their back when they aren't. PROPERLY ADJUSTED side reins (not cranked up!) give the horse a balance point and encourage them to work through their back.

But the best takeaway in my view is that anything can be overdone or misused. Lunging is only a tool, not a goal. If you are accomplishing your goals for your horse without lunging, or without side reins, etc., well ... Congrats!

jenj said...

I've used lunging for a variety of reasons over time, both au naturel and with side reins adjusted loosely. I always have a specific purpose in mind when I want to lunge, and it varies from horse to horse.

I don't usually lunge to work them down, but if the weather had been bad and they are stuck in their stalls, I figure it's kinder to give them a bit of freedom on the end of a lunge line than demand they go right to work under saddle. My current horse seems to benefit from short canter sessions on the lunge (maybe 3-5 circles each way) to find his balance on the circle without me getting in his way. I also will use the lunge line to work on trot/canter/trot transitions, again so the horse can focus on himself and his own balance.

My previous horse did a lot of work on the lunge line so that he could work through some things on his own. He'd been jerked around in a shanked bit and was understandably wary of touching the bit, so I had very loose side reins on him so that he could become comfortable with slight contact. He also didn't understand the concept of transitions within a gait and would respond to the slightest shift in weight, rein, or leg aid with a change in gaits (which he thought was "right", poor guy). However he responded beautifully to voice commands, and over time he learned on his own that he could lengthen and collect his trot and canter on the lunge. I'd then use the voice command from the saddle (while trying not to move a muscle) and since he understood what I wanted, was comfortable doing it. Maybe not the best way to go about it, but I'm not a trainer and it's what worked for us.

So yes, I think lunging has its place, and side reins, adjusted in a proper manner for the horse, and not overused, have their place too. Nothing steams me more than seeing someone run their bucking, crazy horse around for an hour on the lunge line, or seeing a horse drilled endlessly on an 8 m circle with its nose yanked to its chest with side reins. Can we just skip that kind of "horsemanship," please!

Anonymous said...

To me, groundwork is any work not done mounted - it can be leading, including using poles/mazes to refine leading, it can be in-hand work with the horse bridled, it can be lungeing or ground-driving (two lines), either with a halter (I have one where I can adjust it so it's tight enough so it doesn't slide around and rub, and I also put a fuzzy over the noseband) or bridle. Some people do liberty work with the horse unconstrained, but I don't do that - I'm not starting young horses and don't have a round pen and I also think free lungeing/round penning can be overused/abused.

Francesca Prescott said...

Shanster, that "flexing to the inside" sounds like what I try to do. I quite enjoy lungeing Qrac now as I can really see how his body has developped over the months.

Heather, you are so right about Iberian horses having a tendency to show a "false" collection. I've really been concentrating on trying to get him to work through his back. Loads of shoulder in, haunches out, working round and deep. In the last few sessions the canter has really improved, I can really feel the power of the haunches developing, everything becoming looser, it's such a nice feeling. How old is your Andalusian? Thanks for commenting :)

Francesca Prescott said...

Jenj, it sounds like you found a good solution to work your previous horse through his problem. It's so important to try to "feel" what works best.

Francesca Prescott said...

Kate: Thanks for the explanation of groundwork; I thought that was what you meant but wanted to make sure. We have a medium sized oval pen that we use for lungeing - and I'm actually riding in it at the moment, I find the smaller space makes it easier for Qrac and I to stay focused. I let him loose in there once in a while, especially if he can't go out in the field because of wet weather, but he's surprisingly uninterested in bombing around like an idiot, or if he does he soon calms down and just walks around, admiring the view. And as soon as I turn my back on him, he comes walking after me.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

I have to agree with jenj here...I use lunging as another form of training.

I also like it to start jumping...I am not in my horse's way when they are figuring out how to take a jump :)


joycemocha said...

If working in collection and that sort of thing is important to do without riding, I don't lunge. I either ground drive or tie the reins to the saddle and round pen. Both work equally well as a "come to Mama" moment with my horse.

I tend to use lunging as a quick work, check for lameness, that sort of thing. I don't lunge before working, though I've done it in the past with a cold-backed, cinchy horse.

The problem (for me) with draw reins or side reins is that they can encourage the horse to lean on the bit for support. I'm not a fan of that.

But then again, the Mocha girl will work calmly with her nose almost dragging on the ground to stretch out her back on her own. Not every horse can or will do it, either on the lunge or under saddle (she does it both ways).

Unknown said...

I only do round penning without lines and without even a bridle and figure out how to spend the time on the ground depending on the horse. Lily likes the warm up on soft ground, Smokey seems to focus well when we've had a good session. we have smallish paddocks, with hard ground, the round pen is where all the bucks can go.

We don't warm up there every time. Just after several days off.